Parmesan cheese, lambrusco wine, balsamic vinegar and spaghetti Bolognese all come from Emilia Romagna, one of Italy’s wealthiest regions. The true inspiration for visiting however isn’t the food, irresistible as it may be. It is the art and architecture of the cities, each having its own story to tell. Located between Po River to the north and the Apennines to the south, Emilia Romagna is named after a road constructed by the Romans almost 2200 years ago. You are bound to be charmed by unique sights throughout the region. Whether it’s Parma, a beautiful and relaxed city, famous for its ham and cheese; in Modena, where you pick up some of the best balsamic vinegar, or in Ravenna, once a capital of the Western Roman Empire, where the greatest collection of Byzantine mosaics is held. It was in Ravenna that the poet Dente Alighieri found a haven after being exiled from his native Florence. Emilia Romagna has give birth to such famous figures as painter Giorgio Morandi, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti, as well as such diverse talents as Marconi and Enzo Ferrari. In Busseto you can track the life of Giuseppe Verdi.
Bologna is in the heart of Emilia Romagna. Medieval palaces cluster around two central squares, Piazza Maggiore, created in 1200, and Piazza del Nettuo. Between them is the majestic Fountain of Neptune. Sitting in an outdoor café in Piazza Maggiore, one of the finest in Italy, is a true experience. Opposite the fountain is the palace names after King Enzo of Sardinia, who was locked up here for more than 20 years until he died in 1272.
The city is easily explored on foot and you’ll be charmed by the beautiful architecture, including the basilicas of San Stefano, San Domenico and San Francesco. The Plaza Maggiore is dominated by the Basilica of San Petronio, the fifth largest in the world and as fantastic example of Gothic architecture. The façade has a remarkable portal of Old and New Testament scenes and a beautiful Madonna and Child. Inside is the oldest organ in Italy plus a giant sundial and amazing frescos.
At one time there were about 200 towers in Bologna, built by aristocratic families as a symbol of wealthy and power. Today is skyline is pierced by the two famous leaning towers, Asinelli and Garisenda. Asinelli has 498 steps which canbe climbed in spite of how it leans. The view offered from the tower of the entire city is simply spectacular. You’ll see why Bologna also goes by the nickname “the Red,” after the all pervasive red rooftops. The Garisenda leans at an even greater angle.
If you come across crowds of young people, you are probably near the university. The University of Bologna is the oldest in Europe. Founded in 1088, by the 13th century is already had more than 10,000 students from all over Europe. In the streets around the university, you will find plentiful bookshops, coffeebars and cheap but good quality restaurants, which are open late and make the nightlife there lively and entertaining.
Set among the university buildings is the national art gallery, Pinacoteca Nazionale. The extensive exhibits include works by Giotto and the famous Ecstasy of St Cecilia by Raphael. The tow gate at Porta Saragozza marks the start of the world’s longest portico, which leads to Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca. It’s a spectacular edifice-an hour’s walk beneath 666 arches before arriving at the round basilica.
Like all cities in Emilia Romagna, Bologna is a culinary heaven. The Bolognesi have given the world tortellini, lasagna, mortadella and spaghetti Bolognese. The city’s other nickname, “The Fat,” suggests it is impossible for you to go home other than well fed.